[Screen It]


(1998) (DMX, Nas) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Extreme Heavy Extreme Moderate Extreme
Moderate None Mild Heavy Extreme
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
Extreme Moderate None Mild Extreme

Drama: Two lifelong criminal friends begin to part ways as one starts to sell drugs while the other hopes to get out of the racket and start life anew.
Tommy Brown (DMX, a.k.a. Earl Simmons ) and Sincere (Nasir "Nas" Jones) have grown up on the wild and violent streets of Queens. Part of a small gang of thieves whose members have gotten rich by knocking off strip joints and other establishments, these older teens have no fear of the law or killing for money.

Even so, the two are starting to split in their ideological ways. Tommy, who lives in the fast lane and has no problem cheating on his girlfriend, Kisha (TARAL HICKS), while scoring hits, has recently decided to get into drug dealing after hearing of a new addictive substance now on the market.

Sincere, who's married to Tionne (TIONNE "T-BOZ" WATKINS) and has a baby girl, begins to question his criminal lifestyle and starts to think of ways to get out, and away from it. Even so, with the help of Tommy's wealthy Jamaican drug lord, Lennox (LOUIE RANKIN), the two men begin dealing drugs. With Tommy's associate, Knowledge (POWER) setting up shop in Omaha, the gang starts to make money running their interstate drug ring.

Trouble arises when Big (TYRIN TURNER), the local drug kingpin, decides he doesn't like outsiders moving in on his game. Ratting them out to the authorities, Big gets his revenge as Sincere and Tommy start feeling the heat as drug busts begin to fall all around them.

As the feds move in closer, more violence erupts on the streets, and an angry associate, Shameek (METHOD MAN) seeks revenge on Tommy for not getting him out of jail, the two friends do what they can to make things best for themselves.

Since this film is being promoted on MTV (and other music video channels) and features many rap performers, some kids may want to see it.
For strong violence, language, sexuality and drug use.
Considering all that occurs in the movie, there's not a good role model to be found among the major characters.


OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
If it's not already too obvious, here's the quick recipe for an "in the 'hood, gangsta" flick. Assemble a group of rap artists who believe their appearances in music videos qualify them as serious actors, throw in a convoluted plot lifted from other films featuring drug dealing and lots of street murders, and litter the production with enough uses of "nigger," "bitch" "f*ck" and "motherf*ck" to meet the word count quota for writing a screenplay, and you'll almost be ready.

Finally, add a director who's cut his teeth on those music videos and knows how to arrange stylish shots but isn't clear how to helm something running more than ninety minutes, and you'll end up with a film like "Belly."

To its credit, the movie occasionally looks quite impressive and features a few decently constructed and executed sequences, but for the most part it's a hodgepodge of cliches from other "in the 'hood" films. Playing out like a lower socioeconomic class version of "Scarface" and featuring a shockingly poor narrative structure, the film's all flash with no substance beneath its highly polished surface -- despite its few, but too obviously preachy moments.

Scenes, as well as characters and plot direction appear and disappear without much warning or meaning as the film meanders its way through its convoluted story. Most of the characters are indistinguishable (not due to skin color, but instead their two-dimensional "qualities") and worse yet, they don't elicit the necessary responses from the audience to make the picture work.

Although writer/director Hype Williams (the afore mentioned former music video director) tries to lure the audience into sympathizing with the film's narrator (by showing that he has a family and -- big surprise -- eventually figures out that crime doesn't pay), there's little chance of that happening.

Since we don't care about and certainly don't like the characters, and with their simple thug status preventing their personalities from becoming larger than life creations (like many well-written and performed gangster characters often do), we're left with absolutely no stake in their, or the film's outcome.

Of course, if the picture's rambling plot was more cohesive and coherent, and if understanding some of the dialogue were easier (including a Jamaican drug lord whose mumbling and thick accent clearly cry out for much needed subtitles) things might have fared a bit better. Even so, and despite the obnoxious and nearly useless overuse of voice over narration trying to guide us along, the film elicits absolutely no interest or involvement from the audience.

Beyond the haphazardly constructed story, the rest of that fault lies with the poorly developed characters and the resulting flat performances. While there are plenty of volatile characters present, none of the performances are noteworthy.

Although DMX, a.k.a. Earl Simmons, shows some potential as the angry thug, and Taral Hicks (one of the few performers with real motion picture experience -- "A Bronx Tale") is believable in her role, the rest of the performers come off exactly like what they are -- musical artists trying to act. By now, and after the failed attempts of noteworthy artists such as David Bowie, Sting, and many others, they should know it's not as easy as it looks.

Inexplicably set in the near future (counting down through the months to New Year's Eve, 1999), the picture fully supports the old adage that you shouldn't judge a book -- or in this case, a movie -- by its cover. Although it's got that big, stylish music video production look going for it, the film may be pretty, but it clearly has a lousy personality once you get to know it. Showing occasional signs of potential, the film otherwise is a messy thud. We give "Belly" a 2 out of 10.

Although it's unclear just how many kids might want to see this film, here's a quick look at its content. Violence is extreme with many people being killed with guns (and another via a slit throat), the results of which are occasionally quite bloody.

Profanity is extreme with 180+ "f" words and many others. We briefly see two intercut sexual encounters that show nudity and movement, and also see a heavily implied oral sex scene (with movement and sounds). Other nudity also occurs in a strip club, and some sexual talk is also present.

Nearly all of the characters are young criminals with bad attitudes who rob, murder or sell drugs to lead their rich lifestyle. Accordingly, we see lots of drugs and drug usage. Due to all of that and more, we strongly suggest that you take a closer look at the content should someone in your home wish to see this film.

Of special note for those concerned with bright repetitive flashes of light, that does occur in a full screen, strobe scene in this movie.

  • Tommy and Sincere share a joint.
  • Various people drink liquor from bottles in several scenes.
  • Tommy decides he wants to get into the drug dealer business and we see him and others preparing their drugs for sale.
  • A person smokes a joint at a meeting.
  • Tommy and Lennox share what looks like a joint.
  • Lennox smokes a joint, as does Tommy and others.
  • People drink in a strip club.
  • Tommy and some guys have drinks in a restaurant.
  • Lennox smokes a joint and has a drink.
  • A young street kid smokes what looks like a joint that he then shares with Sincere.
  • Blood squirts out from a man's back as he's shot.
  • A man who's been shot is bloody.
  • Another man who's been shot in his car is bloody.
  • Some people who are shot are bloody.
  • We see a large pool of blood next to a man whose throat has been slit.
  • A man's face is somewhat bloody after he's repeatedly been hit.
  • Obviously Tommy, Sincere, the rest of their gang, and many others have extreme cases of both for being homicidal criminals.
  • In addition, Tommy says that life is only about making money and dismisses Sincere's philosophical questions about life and his reading of books, and he also believes he's above the law.
  • A federal agent coerces Tommy into assassinating a man or else face full criminal prosecution.
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense to some viewers.
  • Tionne returns home to find several thugs in her house. She pulls out her gun, they pull out theirs, and then leave after a momentary standoff.
  • Tommy sneaks into the office of a man he's to assassinate, and holds his gun on this man who calmly tries to talk him out of murder.
  • Handguns/Shotgun/Machine guns/Knife: Used to threaten, wound, or kill people. See "Violence" for details.
  • We see some kids on a video tape playing with toy guns.
  • Some kids run alongside Lennox's car with a real gun.
  • We see that a young street kid has a handgun.
  • Phrases: "Nigger" and "Bitch" (said throughout the film), "Shut the f*ck up," "D*ckhead," "Suck my d*ck," "Dumb ass," "Kiss my ass," "Faggot," "Crazy ass," "Idiot" and "Punk ass."
  • The "rich" lifestyle of the criminals and drug dealers in the film may inspire some kids to get involved in such activity.
  • In addition, Tommy says that life is only about making money and dismisses Sincere's philosophical questions about life and his reading of books.
  • None.
  • A mild amount of such music occurs in a few scenes.
  • While many of the included rap song's lyrics couldn't be understood, we did pick out several instances of the "f" word, along with "nigger."
  • The following should be considered a bare minimum (especially due to one character's thick accent and mumbling) and some comes from the mouths of young kids.
  • At least 186 "f" words (30 used with "mother" and 2 used sexually), 78 "s" words, 6 slang terms using male genitals ("d*ck" and "d*ckhead"), 1 slang term for female genitals ("p*ssy") and breasts ("t*ts"), 16 asses, 8 damns, 1 hell, and 2 uses each of "God" and "Oh my God" as exclamations.
  • We see bare-breasted dancers in a strip club.
  • A larger than life-sized picture on the wall shows a nude woman with her legs spread, but due to its use of shadows, we can't really see anything.
  • We see Kisha in her bra and underwear in bed (with some cleavage that's also seen in other scenes).
  • Kisha asks another younger woman, "Are you f*cking Tommy?" This person, who states she's only sixteen, says that she didn't, but that "I sucked his d*ck the night before last."
  • We see brief full frontal and rear shots of Tommy after he comes out of the shower.
  • We see intercut sexual encounters between Tommy and Kisha, and Sincere and "T" (that include brief glimpses of movement and nudity).
  • For whatever reason, a man strips off his clothes after being threatened by another man with a gun and we see brief full frontal nudity.
  • We see Tommy unzip his pants while in a parked car with a younger girl. She then puts her head down to his lap and we see her head bobbing up and down while hearing the sounds of oral sex.
  • We see most of a woman's bare butt as she sits on top of a man.
  • We see strippers in a strip club again (nearly bare butts) and the camera momentarily focuses on a close up of a stripper's clothed crotch.
  • We briefly see several men's bare butts in a prison shower.
  • Sincere smokes cigars several times, while Kisha, Tommy and a handful of others also occasionally smoke.
  • None.
  • The lives of street criminals and drug dealers, and whether this film is an accurate representation of that.
  • Several people are shot and killed in a nightclub.
  • Two men get into a fight and one pulls out his gun and fires it several times as a warning.
  • A man is shot and returns gunfire at the police. Wounded, he then crashes his car in a severe wreck.
  • A man walks up to another man and repeatedly shoots him in his car.
  • A man pours something into another man's drink (to sedate or kill him), but the second man then shoots the first and others shoot at him. As that man tries to escape, the bartender shoots him with a shotgun, blowing him outside. This wounded man then shoots at the police who've arrived.
  • Two men pull out their guns in a restaurant, threatening the other, and one finally shoots the other dead.
  • Many assassins show up at Lennox's estate. He then grabs his machine gun and a massive gun battle takes place where he kills many people. At the end, a masked intruder jumps on his back and then slits his throat, killing him.
  • Tionne and some thugs aim their guns at each other after she finds them in her home.
  • A man walks up and pulls his gun on Sincere, the two struggle and Sincere is shot, but shoots this other man (as do others) until he's dead.
  • A man strikes Kisha several times until she kicks him in the crotch and then repeatedly hits him on the face with some object. She then gets his gun and shoots him dead.
  • Tommy threatens a man with a gun.

  • Reviewed November 2, 1998

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